Cost, necessity of education contributing to Boston area’s income inequality…..(and what else is behind this?)

Yes. Need housing too. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

From the Boston Business Journal: As the cost of college rises, a Federal Reserve Bank economist said Wednesday, the necessity of obtaining an advanced degree for earning potential has contributed to Boston’s income inequality – ranked most unequal in the nation last year by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Forum.

The article only tells one side of the story. Even if 100% of Massachusetts citizens had a higher education, even if we all had a PhD,  we would still need food market clerks, warehouse workers, school bus drivers, coffee shop servers, dry cleaning staff, dishwashers; an almost endless list of vital services that we all depend on for our lifestyle. All of the aforementioned deserve a sustainable wage unless the college grads can figure out how to survive on a six figure salary without the assistance of food market clerks, warehouse workers, school bus drivers, coffee shop servers, dry cleaning staff, dishwashers…….

Our problems will not go away if we keep insisting that “education and job skills” are the solution.

Our problems are the end product of the citizens of the commonwealth refusing to admit, and the reluctance of the Democratic Party to insist, that all citizens in our economy are rightfully due, at minimum, a sustaining wage.   To paraphrase Adam Smith, a sustaining wage is on that will provide food, clothing shelter, medical care, (yes, even a smart phone) for the worker and the worker’s family.  It must also be enough for the worker to save for that rainy day and eventually, retirement.


19 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. yes and

    Great points, especially the need for decently-paid service work.

    We also need a strategy on housing that concentrates on increasing supply and affordability. Our zoning laws make that extremely tricky, as well as profit motive to create housing only for those that can pay big $$$.

    Greater Boston is becoming Silicon Valley, without the monotonously nice weather.

    • "education and job skills"

      Necessary-but-not-sufficient … surely not something to be ignored. I’ll take MA’s problems over those places that have not made such investments. But “playing to our strengths” — high-skill, knowledge jobs — may well be exacerbating inequality.

      • Playing to our strengths and sharing our success

        Policy makers haven’t figured out the last part-part of why the we’re #1 boosterism from the Shirley Leungs of the world always seems to neglect Mattapan or Chicopee.

  2. Arrogance, Pride, Ignorance?

    I had a heated exchange with a Democrat back in December regarding wages for, lets call them, service workers. He was a professional MIT PhD sort and I, as many of you are aware, work as a customer service clerk at a food market. When I asked if the woman at the drive up window supply us with coffee and a muffin for our commute to the office deserved a sustainable wage, his reply was “she needs to find a more fulfilling career.” In other words, she needs to be more like him?

    I informed him that I’d been working since I was 16 and finally, at the age of 62, I finally found a job that I find fulfilling. Yes, I stack potatoes and trim lettuce, but I also have friendly conversations with customers, help them with menus, teach them how to cook certain vegetables, and put up displays of produce that people actually stop and take pictures of. I love this job. It’s the first “fulfilling” job I’ve ever had. The only downside is that it could not possibly support a family.

    I can appreciate the pride of someone in a high paying job that is only achievable through through rigorous academic study, but when it turns to arrogance, I must object.

  3. This is the easiest instance of both/and I can think of.

    Yes, we need to make sure opportunities for education and career advancement are available to all AND we need to make sure those jobs not requiring such things offer a living wage. We also need to remember that while people of a certain age may not realistically have a chance or inclination to be retrained, as a long term prospect we need training for jobs for a new generation.

  4. “she needs to find a more fulfilling career.”

    I guess my question is.. Should every job pay a sustainable wage? or Should every person be able to get a job that pay a sustainable wage?

    When I was a teenager I had a job bagging groceries, there was an opening for job as a “cleaner”, that as part of its duties required cleaning all the machines in the meat department, assisting with cleaning and closing the service area of the meat and deli department, and cleaning around all the trash compactors out back. This job paid 25% more than my job as a bagger, I got it because nobody senior than me wanted it because it was “too dirty”. I still remember talking to the other baggers and they complained that my lowly cleaning job paid more than their jobs when they had to be nice to customers and had to wear nice closes and a tie. They actually talked to management about getting the their pay raised to the same as a “cleaners” pay. Management laughed and said, “If I did that, all my cleaners would want to bag.”

    I agree every person should be able to find a job that pays a living wage, but should every person be able to find a fulfilling job that pays a living wage?

    • fulfilling jobs

      I never had a fulfilling job. Try unloading industrial kilns on a July afternoon (no air conditioning). Guess what, you had to sign up and were happy to get picked for overtime because there were so many guys who wanted to do it. If only lifeguards at the beach got paid the same.

      • +1

        I have never considered any of my jobs fulfilling either, guess that is why the call it work. I leave fulfilling to my volunteering and hobbies.

        • Deep into philosophy and personal choice

          I think a lot of this has to do with philosophy, personal choice, values, and so on.

          When I was very young (23-24), I was introduced to the concept that “feelings are real” — physiologically and emotionally, we cannot help reacting to feelings in immediate and physical ways. Our attempts to suppress our emotions usually only compound whatever is already happening. In that context, I embraced what amounts to a personal/theological/spiritual stance towards the universe around me. Like it or not, I (and we) live in the here and now (Paul Tillich calls it “The Eternal Now“).

          Our wage-slave economy is based on what is, for me, a spiritual lie verging on heresy — the premise that it is possible to trade discomfort, pain and suffering today in exchange for promised nirvana “later” acquired with the proceeds earned from that pain and suffering. This is, at its heart, very similar to a Baptist premise that I also reject — “suffering today doesn’t matter, because we will have eternal joy in Heaven when we die.” I think each is a self-serving self-perpetuating lie whose primary effect is to bless oppression and oppressors.

          Here is how the resulting vicious cycle works:
          1. I spend most of my waking hours doing something I hate. This makes me hurt, makes me angry, makes me depressed, and so on.
          2. I do that in exchange for wages. I am told that I can use these wages to buy something that will make me “happy”.
          3. I am told by the culture around me that my wages will buy things that will make me happy — a better car, bigger house, more beautiful partner, more delicious food, etc.
          4. I spend my wages on those those things, and discover that the real hurt, anger, depression, shame, and so on is still there. Every Monday morning, I’m just as unhappy as I was at the end of the day Friday.
          5. I am told that the reason for my unhappiness is that my wages aren’t high enough. If I only work harder, smarter, or longer, I’ll get more wages. Or maybe I need to buy different things. More expensive things. Newer things.
          6. The only way for me to do (6) is to redouble my efforts at (1).

          And so the cycle is closed.

          I don’t know about “fulfilling”. I do know that I long ago adopted the following heuristic:

          1. Figure out where I would live (“home”) and what I would do with my time (“vocation”) if I had unlimited wealth — to the best of my ability. NOTE: This is very much the most difficult and error-prone step.
          2. Move to whatever place the answer to (1) tells me.
          3. Figure out a way to make my vocation generate enough money to sustain me.

          I started with a BSEE from a good school That has been a HUGE advantage. At the same time, what I do (and love to do) on a day-to-day basis has nothing at all to do with my training. I’m able to do it because I just started doing it.

          My own experience has been that once I knew what I wanted to do, I was able to find the resources needed to acquire the needed skills. Your mileage may vary.

          I know that not everyone can do what I did and do. I have paid what some consider serious prices for my choices (two divorces, two broken homes, a fortune spent on child support, etc). Still, I consider myself fortunate to be where I am in life. I am acutely aware of all the things done on my behalf that make my life possible. I feel very obligated to “pay forward” those things for others.

          I don’t think society can afford to pay every cashier at Dunkin Donuts enough to live in 3 BR home with personal automobile in a driveway and a lawn to mow. I suggest that the effect of our well-intentioned efforts to make that possible will be to aggressively stimulate and promote a new generation of companies producing robots that will replace those cashiers.

          As we attempt to coerce the wages higher, that very effort will cause wealth to concentrate in the wallets of the handful of people who fund and therefore own the technology makes those wages obsolete.

          The only answer that will work is to start, NOW, replacing our society’s reliance on labor as a mechanism for distributing wealth with something new.

          The “wage-earning era” is over. The question is what we replace it with.

          • In large parts I agree...

            I have also been lucky in that I was smart and was able to go to school for CompSci, my problem is I hated school. If I decided then not to go to school because I did not like it, I would be in trouble later in life,

            I have done something I am good at and what I didn’t really care to do, 50+ hours a week, for the last 30 years. Living where I wanted to, and making enough money to be able do in my free time what I wanted to do to keep me sane. I like your philosophy, but I was willing to take a bit of pain now and it has also given me the opportunity to (probably) quit this year, at 53, and open a business making about 10% of what I currently do.

            You are right, forcing wages up will cause the loss of jobs… Look at Starbucks, the store by my office has cut cashiers because most of the people during the morning rush now use the App, no need for as many cashiers. Wendy’s and McDonald’s are putting self service kiosks in so you never talk to a cashier.

            As a CS (and you as a BSEE) grad, I know automation is coming and will not stop. Automation will increase the labor pool of lower skilled people for fewer and fewer lower skilled jobs. Driving the wages even lower.

            If the “wage-earning era” is really over for unskilled labor, a lot more people are going to be in for a lot of pain in the future. Lower skilled people are going to have to fight against higher skilled/educated people for the lower skilled jobs, especially if those jobs now pay a “living wage”.

    • Well ... yes

      I agree every person should be able to find a job that pays a living wage, but should every person be able to find a fulfilling job that pays a living wage?

      Clearly this isn’t possible now, but isn’t this supposed to be the goal of human progress? I have a microwave because of NASA; a microwave makes my life easier. With that extra time, I — OK, I waste it here, but at least I’m choosing.

      Eventually, everyone should have (the option) of a fulfilling job at a good wage. Otherwise what are we doing here?

      • Why is it not possible now?

        And what do we (Democrats) begin with? What targets do we have? What are our talking points? Republicans did pretty well with “Make America Great Again”….and when that is proven to be a scam, what do we come back with?

        One of the big problems we have is the number of us who are still afraid to use words like socialism, or a shared economy, or workers rights. I think that’s why it’s not possible at the moment. The younger generations do not seem to have this same aversion.

        • Not enough robots

          To, for example, make that drive-through coffee and doughnut.

          • Sad......

            Getting a warm cup of coffee from a friendly face who remembers you from last time and wishes you a good day……can’t get that from a robot.

            And it’s not just “low wage” people who are going to be affected. Even today, many lawyers hours are being replaced with software that can read documents and check for legal problems.

            • That's not my point though

              I like nothing better than being recognized by the friendly people at my local coffee shop. But I don’t imagine they’re all fulfilled by the work. Some are, and that’s great. Some are also in transition (in school or whatever), which is fine. But a few are stuck, and if we can fix that, we should. And by “we” I mean society, not just Democrats.

              • That's kinda the whole point of the left

                Not just fighting for bread but for roses too. This is why unions pushed for the weekend, 40 hour workweeks and ended child labor. Keynes was bullish on automation since he assumed as work was eliminated the working class could
                join the leisure class in pursuit of the good life. It’s also why the biggest sin of capitalism according to Marx was that it alienated people from their labor-that was the real reason he wanted all workers to be owners-so that they could own their work and derive meaning from it.

              • fulfilled by the work

                That is the point. Money is not fulfillment. My highest earning year was at a time when I absolutely hated my job. Money helps lessen the pain, but cannot remove it. If the guy at the coffee drive up window was not worried about being late with a rent payment because he had to take a day off last week to take care of a sick child, AND if he was getting a larger than normal profit sharing check tomorrow because last week’s coffee sales were up, he might really enjoy his day.

  5. The four comments above are great-I'll add my two cents

    Tom’s was especially detailed. Tillich is one of my father in laws favorite theologians, to the point that he requested to visit HDS over the JFK library the last day they were in town to see where he worked and taught. And I think finding true meaning is more important-both in the Christian and the more secular metaphysical sense of what it means to be human.

    Since industrialization humans have been part of a machine-as cogs in the assembly line. Technology has made it possible to automate many of those jobs and remove humans more and more from this cog. Globalization has also made it possible to exploit humans in industrializing societies as badly as the Lowell mill owners did in the 19th century.

    Solving both of those problems will require more technology and more global cooperation. More laws and regulations that cross borders. Which is why this populist moment is so disheartening since we are actually on the precipice of another epoch in technological advancement.

    Two books I read recently had a profound affect on me. The first was Race Against the Machine which shows how much faster this automated future will happen. Those DD clerks are fucked either way, Wall Street already will choose machines over minimum wages and it definitely won’t pay living wages. Soon white collar jobs will be next. There are already algorithms that automate bankruptcy petitions and soon could handle more complex cases like estates and divorces. You’ll always need a human lawyer to double check and physically sign the papers-but you’ll need a lot less of them and you don’t have to pay them as much. Medicine is about to undergo a similar change as NPs take on more and more responsibilities. They’ll likely be what most doctors were in the 20th century with MDs relegated to the academy or performing the most complex specialization and surgeries. And they’ll likely be manipulating robots more and more and doing the cutting themselves less and less.

    The fact that teaching was the only job on that list that liberal arts majors could qualify for was part of what convinced me to go into that profession. My wife’s already going to be in another of the 10. We really should push students into fields that won’t be automated and start teaching the skills they need for this. It has to be both/and. Making them global and local citizens as well as teaching them how to write and how to think.

    And people will be working less. I think people get meaning from their families, friends and communities. Glass House-the other book I read-shows how the conformity of the Fordist model left a lot of people dislocated and alienated so that when it falls apart the solidarity could fray a lot easier-even if the time was a more economically mobile one. Also how shareholder value really fucked over a lot of Fordist businesses that paid good wages and were based in a community. We want a future where no one works at a DD or an assembly line-and everyone is fulfilling their full potential. It may sound utopian-but we have the unprecedented levels of wealth to do this.

    Global capital needs to be tamed and redeployed to benefit the 99%. Basic income is part of it-but so is making every citizen a shareholder in the GDP of their country. The old adage of Chesterton to make everyone a capitalist. I’m not sure if this is true socialism or a hybrid of the two systems-I don’t care about names I just want it to happen.


    ” Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

    Fred Rich LaRiccia

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